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Customer Review

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging and compelling history of a terrible crime and tragedy, November 25, 2008
This review is from: Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Hardcover)
If you want to understand what happened on those awful days at Mountain Meadows in September 1857, I recommend this book above all others. Juanita Brooks' books are still very good and she should always be admired for the work she did in telling this story and this event and providing a biography of John D. Lee. But this book presents information she did not have access to and provides many helpful illustrations, maps, photos, and notes that help us as readers. The authors do not debate other versions of this event and if you want to believe that Brigham Young ordered this slaughter, you will not like the evidence presented here. However, neither John D. Lee, any of the contemporary participants, Juanita Brooks, or these authors implicates Brigham Young. The authors do show the extraordinary pressure put on John D. Lee by the non-Mormon judicial system that tried and executed him to point the finger at Young, but he did not do so.

What I think is especially helpful about this book is the way the authors never once try to make excuses for the horrors committed against the immigrants while also providing a context for this nightmare. Not to make excuses or to spread blame, but to show the full chain of events. We all know that horrible events such as plane crashes are rarely the result of one big failure, but the sum of many small things going wrong. If any one of them is caught and dealt with properly, the tragedy is averted. Nothing can excuse the massacre of the emigrants. Nothing can make it understandable in any rational way. But the context helps us see the chain of events that contributed to, used as an excuse, and exploited in order to justify the initial attack.

I was fascinated by the way the authors handled the charge of the emigrants poisoning a dead ox and thereby killing local people and Indians. If it was anthrax, as the authors posit, it explains a lot and since it was not understood at the time it would appear to be the work of the emigrants and seem to "justify" some kind of retribution or extraction of payment. However, the Indians did not cause the attack. They were also exploited and manipulated by the Cedar City leaders, especially Lee. Then there was the murder of several members of the party who were seeking assistance from nearby folks to save their party from the Indian attack. Once those murders occurred, the final slaughter was an attempt to cover up the original attack and murders. Reading this story is like being trapped in a nightmare you want to wake up from, but can't.

While we can't undo this tragic horror, we can learn from it. Here is an example of people committing wrongs and then seeking to cover them up with more crime. Here are events that burden us more than a century and a half after they happened. The final butchery took only a few minutes and yet will never end. I also appreciate the way the authors undermine the pride of those who say they did not participate in the crimes; however, the authors note, which of them stood up to Dame, Haight, Lee, and others in any attempt to stop the killing? That is our requirement. We must stand up to wrong and not merely stand apart and feel innocent.

This book covers the context and the crime, but not much of the aftermath (except for what happened to the children not murdered and the execution of Lee at the Meadows in 1877) , which the authors say should be its own book. I hope they write that book. While this book is 430 page long, the actual telling of the story is only 231 pages. The rest contains appendices listing all the emigrants, their property (that the killers coveted), the names of those involved in the murders, the Indians involved, sources, 127 pages of footnotes (very helpful reading, by the way), and an index.

Frankly, I wept more than a few times in working my way through this book. I do not see how anyone could read this history without becoming deeply engaged as these terrible events unfold.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
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